Just like everything else, the coronavirus has upended pop culture — movie theaters are closed, concerts and other live events are canceled or postponed, TV production is all but shut down, and hundreds of new releases have been delayed. But the powers of the internet and digital media prevail: Whether old or new, there are still plenty of movies and TV shows and TikToks to watch, games to play, songs to listen to, and books to read.
Here at Vox Culture, we’ve been working hard to recommend all kinds of entertainment that might help you during your time at home. And in the process, we’ve been consuming oodles of it ourselves. So every Friday for the month of May, we’ll be sharing the pop culture we’ve been loving in our own lives; we think you might love some of it too.
Here are six things we loved this week.
Never Have I Ever and Normal People are bringing back the horny teen show
Few things in this unpredictable world of ours are ever so reliably compelling as watching fictional teenagers get very concerned about their sex lives. And now, both Hulu and Netflix are giving that classic story the prestige treatment.
Hulu’s offering is Normal People, based on the wildly acclaimed Sally Rooney novel, which draws from one of the most classic teen-soap wells. Marianne is a nerd. Connell is popular. Can they overcome the gap in their social statuses to form a genuine emotional connection and also have plenty of tastefully lit explicit sex? I don’t think the answer will surprise you! But the journey is tender and sweet and touched with melancholy.
Meanwhile, Netflix’s new contribution to the “horny teen show but make it high-class” genre stays squarely on the comedy end of things. Never Have I Ever is the latest offering from Mindy Kaling, whose TV shows I have always found myself wanting to like a lot more than I actually do. But this one’s a winner, because it turns out that Kaling’s particular brand of wacky self-deprecation is perfectly suited for telling stories about insecure teenagers.
In this case, Kaling is telling the story of Devi, an Indian American high-school sophomore who becomes determined to lose her virginity a few months after the sudden death of her father. The results are slapstick and funny and also deeply moving, and in a perfectly surreal twist, the whole thing is narrated by tennis star John McEnroe. Shouldn’t work, does anyway. — Constance Grady, culture writer and book critic
The FX series Breeders
Breeders is a new TV series that recently finished its 10-episode first season. Starring Martin Freeman and Daisy Haggard, it’s a solid parenting comedy that has lots in common with Amazon’s Catastrophe, in that it’s somewhat caustic and mostly about the challenges of being a parent, with a dark heart underneath. The show is not particularly innovative, but it doesn’t need to be — it’s funny, and the way it relatably captures the many difficult aspects of raising needy and frequently irritating offspring have been a salve as I’ve come to terms with being stuck at home during quarantine with my own darling (and annoying) and wonderful (and terrible) kids.
Breeders is streaming streaming on Hulu. — Jen Trolio, culture editor
“Savage Remix” by Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé
My phone started vibrating nonstop on Wednesday afternoon — something that hasn’t happened much since quarantine began. “OMG” and “!!!” began peppering my group texts, and the trickle soon became a full-blown avalanche. Each new message provided a little more description, along with the textual shrieking: Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion had joined forces to create a remix of “Savage” (a song that TikTok has made inescapable), with Bey performing a rap that includes a shoutout to OnlyFans, a subscription site that’s very popular among adult entertainers and sex workers.
Perhaps it’s the ennui of a seemingly endless shelter-at-home directive, or the novelty of Beyoncé showcasing a side of herself that we don’t usually hear in her own songs (that she’s a fan of OnlyFans, in this case), or some combination of both. But the song, with its signature piano plunks and jagged hook, is something to revel in. And it supports a good cause, as Stallion said on Instagram that all “artist proceeds” will benefit Houston’s Covid-19 relief efforts. — Alex Abad-Santos, senior culture correspondent
HBO’s very, very dark comedy The Comeback
I don’t know if The Comeback is the best show to ever have aired on TV, but I am confident it is the smartest and, quite possibly, the most subversive. The first season, co-created by Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King, aired in 2005; Kudrow played Valerie Cherish, a washed-up former sitcom actress who lands the package deal of a lifetime: a role on a new network sitcom, and an accompanying reality show about her “comeback.” The indignities she endures at the hands of the sitcom’s writers — one of whom, Paulie G (played by Lance Barber) transparently hates her guts — skewer the television industry so sharply that it’s at times painful to watch even if you’ve never been anywhere near a TV set. And it’s gloriously funny.
The Comeback was canceled after one season, a move that felt pretty meta, but when HBO revived it with a second season in 2014, things got even more ouroboric. After several stints in rehab, in season two Paulie G has developed a show for HBO about his time as a writer on a bad network sitcom and the actress who “tormented” him — a thinly veiled version of Valerie. And through a series of near-accidents, Valerie ends up taking the part (with Seth Rogen playing the Paulie G character), while hiring her own reality crew to follow her through the experience.
The Comeback is, by far, the wisest and most unsparing dig into the TV industry I’ve ever seen, and it simply never lets up. I watched it several years ago for the first time, sitting on the couch, mouth agape practically the whole time. It’s not joke-driven comedy; it’s all about the ridiculous situations inherent to the business of being an actor and a celebrity, about being trapped in a world of your own devising. Kudrow’s performance as Valerie, a woman who cannot for one moment let her guard down lest her whole world implode, is one for the ages. And thus it’s been the perfectly distracting show to watch at the end of another long day trapped in my tiny house, just trying to keep it all together.
The Comeback is streaming on HBO Now and HBO Go. It’s also available to digitally rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. — Alissa Wilkinson, culture writer and film critic
TikTok dance videos to “Say So” by Doja Cat
I’m one of those gangly people who’s 90 percent limbs, so dancing was never going to be my calling. But I imagine that’s true of many people who nonetheless post videos of themselves dancing on the internet, and the ubiquity of TikTok has made me slightly more comfortable with letting loose. TikTok is famous for trends and challenges that inspire ordinary people to attempt nonsensical, brief choreography set to extremely good songs; I’m currently a fan of the dance the TikTok teens have come up with for “Say So” by Doja Cat, who’s an amazing artist in her own right. The “Say So” dance is the kind of simplistic choreo I can actually do and feel kind of good about myself afterward, long may it reign.
So I posted my own shameless attempt! I don’t care if you think it looks bad! I did it!
— Allegra Frank, associate culture editor